The cardiac conduction system (CCS) ensures regular contractile function, and injury to any of its components can cause cardiac dysrhythmia. Although all cardiomyocytes (CMs) originate from common progenitors, the CCS is composed of biologically distinct cell types with unique functional and developmental characteristics. In contrast to ventricular cardiomyocytes, which continue to proliferate after birth, most CCS cells terminally exit the cell cycle during fetal development. Although the CCS should thus provide a poor substrate for postnatal injury repair, its regenerative capacity remains untested. Here, we describe a genetic system for ablating CMs that reside within the atrioventricular conduction system (AVCS). Adult mouse AVCS ablation resulted in regenerative failure characterized by persistent atrioventricular conduction defects and contractile dysfunction. In contrast, AVCS injury in neonatal mice led to recovery in a subset of these mice, thus providing evidence for CCS plasticity. Furthermore, CM proliferation did not appear to completely account for the observed functional recovery, suggesting that mechanisms regulating recovery from dysrhythmia are likely to be distinct from cardiac regeneration associated with ventricular injury. Taken together, we anticipate that our results will motivate further mechanistic studies of CCS plasticity and enable the exploration of rhythm restoration as an alternative therapeutic strategy.
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